As a college freshman, Lauren Domino ’05, ’11, couldn’t wait for the UW Drama Department to cast her in a production. Since most shows only cast juniors and seniors, she would have had to wait two years for her chance. So she started improvising— with Jet City Improv. But she did more than act and tell jokes. Domino joined Jet City artistic director Andrew McMasters, ’95, and marketing director Jeannine Clark, ’04, to create an outreach program that teaches communication skills to at-risk youth in King County.
“The overall goal is teaching more people how to use improv in order to better the situation they are in,” McMasters explains. “The lessons you learn in improvisation can help you at any stage of your learning.” After starting out with small performances to senior-citizen groups in 1996, the program grew to provide performances for the Northwest Burn Foundation, children’s charities during the summer, and free classes for homeless youth in the U District.
Today, Jet City’s outreach program teaches classes in the King County Juvenile Detention Center. It includes special classes for youth being released from the facility. “A lot of these kids are dealing with incredibly challenging issues in their lives,” Domino says. “To have an hour where they can laugh and be goofy and laughing together, it’s something they don’t get to do very often.”
Every month, Jet City cast members and youth instructors provide three to four classes at the detention center. They spend an hour teaching children and young adults basic improvisation skills. Improvisation, Domino says, can be used to teach people communication and teamwork skills. McMasters believes the most important thing they teach students is to look at the people they speak to instead of looking at the ground.
“The same kids saying ‘this is stupid’ will ask when we’re coming back,” Clarke says. “Even the personality changes I can see in an hour are really astounding [because] it’s not a situation where they are right or wrong.”—Mary Jean Spadafora